It took a hurricane to make it happen
Pat Hebard, a 60-year-old survivor of cancer and Hurricane Katrina, has relocated from New Orleans to Lafayette Parish, where she recently moved into her own home, built in partnership with the Middle Eastern state of Qatar and Lafayette Habitat for Humanity.
“Everybody wants to own a piece of something,” Hebard said. “I just wish everybody who’s ever been through hard times could go through an experience like this and have their own home at the end of it. It’s the best blessing ever.”
Hebard lives in one of three Habitat houses on Peppermill Drive in Lafayette, in a working-class neighborhood where most of the streets are named for Confederate generals.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Hebard did not evacuate for Katrina. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2005, and underwent her second surgery only three days before the hurricane landed.
“We had a hurricane party,” she said, shaking her head. “We made it through Hurricane Betsy, and we didn’t think it would be any worse than that.”
Hebard lived on the second floor of a dilapidated housing project in St. Bernard Parish, which was inundated when New Orleans’ levees failed. She and her mom, her two sons, her sister, a niece and her baby were rescued in a canoe and taken to the interstate highway, where they lived for two days.
Eventually, the family got on a church bus bound for the Cajundome in Lafayette, where they slept on air mattresses for the next two months. FEMA aid allowed them to move into a hotel after that, but Hebard was already exploring more permanent solutions to their housing crisis.
“It feels wonderful to own a house, but it’s even more wonderful because I helped build the house,” Hebard said. “It’s a different kind of feeling. I love Lafayette more and more.
“I had been wanting to leave New Orleans and make a fresh start,” she added. “I just didn’t know how to go. It took a hurricane to make it happen.”
Hebard, who says her cancer is in remission, works the night shift as a hospital dietary assistant and often babysits her 3-year-old granddaughter Serenity, who goes by the nickname “Peanut.”
Because Peanut is in the throes of learning her numbers and colors, Hebard has little sticky notes posted throughout her house, labeling everything.
“She’ll get it,” Hebard said. “Like everything else, it just takes time and patience and hard work.”